For a warming world, solar-powered schools and city ‘heat officers’

Highlighted this week are women making leadership debuts at the Pentagon, the Louvre, and in Miami-Dade County, which initiates a new job title – one that deals with extreme heat and climate change.

1. United States

The Senate unanimously confirmed the country’s first female Army secretary. Christine Wormuth is the first woman to achieve the top civilian position in the land service branch, and the second woman the Biden administration has appointed to a top Defense position, historically dominated by men. The first was Kathleen Hicks, who took over as deputy defense secretary.

Why We Wrote This

In our progress roundup, Miami-Dade County’s chief heat officer focuses on mitigating the sun’s extreme effects, while schools in the east Indian state of West Bengal are generating solar power for higher reliability and lower costs.

Ms. Wormuth most recently worked as director of the Rand Corp.’s International Security and Defense Policy Center, and has a long career at the Pentagon, including a two-year stint as the undersecretary of defense for policy during the Obama administration. She also led President Joe Biden’s transition team at the Pentagon. Ms. Wormuth steps into this new leadership role at a pivotal moment for the Army, which is under pressure to change its handling of sexual assault and other violent crimes.
The Associated Press, Army Times

Andrew Harnik/AP
Christine Wormuth is the second woman the Biden administration has appointed to a top Defense position.

2. Chile

Chile’s legislature passed a historic law banning hard-to-recycle plastic items from the food industry, among other changes. Stemming from a 2019 report by environmental groups Plastic Oceans Chile and Oceana Chile, the bill seeks to move the coastline country toward a low-waste, circular economy. It targets single-use plastic items that often end up in oceans, such as plastic plates, straws, foam to-go containers, and stirrers. The legislation also establishes a certificate program for identifying and labeling compostable materials, and requires all establishments selling drinks to offer reusable alternatives to disposable bottles. Advocates say these changes will reduce plastic waste by more than 23,000 tons annually across the country.  

Bans are set to go into effect by the end of the year, and the rest of the program will roll out within the next three years. “The approval of this project, supported across the board by parliamentarians and civil society, is a milestone in the care and protection of Chile’s environment,” said Environment Minister Carolina Schmidt. Chile was the first Latin American country to ban plastic bags in 2018.

3. France

Laurence des Cars has been appointed as the Louvre’s new president-director, making her the first woman to lead the museum in its 228-year history. Few women have helmed France’s major museums. Both the Palais de Tokyo and Centre Pompidou have each had one female president, and Ms. des Cars became the second woman to lead the Musée d’Orsay when she took over in 2017. She will now replace Jean-Luc Martinez in overseeing one of the most-visited museums in the world.

Matthias Balk/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP/File
Laurence des Cars will take over as president-director of the museum later this year.

Ms. des Cars, whose tenure begins Sept. 1, is known at the Orsay and Musée de l’Orangerie for launching collaborative exhibitions that push back on stereotypes about 19th-century art. This includes the 2019 show “Black Models: From Géricault to Matisse,” created in partnership with New York’s Wallach Art Gallery, which highlights Black figures in French art. She was also involved in the development of Louvre Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. She hopes to continue making changes at the Louvre, such as extending evening hours to attract younger crowds and collaborating with contemporary filmmakers, musicians, and designers.
The New York Times, ArtNews

4. India

West Bengal’s Sunshine Schools project is helping bring reliable energy to thousands of classrooms and reduce carbon emissions. Around 70% of India’s electricity currently comes from fossil fuels, according to government reports. Installing a mini solar power plant can reduce a school’s emissions by 10 metric tons a year.

Run by the West Bengal Renewable Energy Development Agency, the Sunshine Schools project has helped 1,800 schools make the switch so far, and plans to install another 1,000 mini plants every year until it reaches 25,000 throughout the Indian state. These systems produce electricity more reliably than the traditional power grid, and can result in significant cost savings when the surplus solar power is fed back into the grid, offsetting whatever energy schools consume on cloudy days. Since installing solar panels, one high school in the Bankura district has used its energy savings on teacher salaries, sanitation, and planting trees.
Thomson Reuters Foundation

5. Australia

Conservation scientists have boosted survival rates of endangered wallabies by using the so-called head-start strategy. The bridled nailtail wallaby population in Queensland was near extinction when a University of New South Wales team decided to collect all the wallabies under 3 kilograms, or around 6.6 pounds, and relocate them to a 25-acre area protected from feral cats, which studies have shown kill more than half of the area’s wallabies before they reach adulthood. Researchers found that 89% of the wallabies raised in Avocet Nature Refuge from 2015 to 2018 survived to grow large enough to be released back into the wild, according to their recent article in Current Biology. By excluding this one particular predator from the young marsupials’ environment, the project nearly tripled the local population of bridled nailtail wallabies.

Dave Watts/NHPA/Photoshot/Newscom
Protecting small bridled nailtail wallabies from feral cats in Queensland in Australia is critical to increasing the species' population. Small wallabies were kept in a refuge until they were large enough to survive predation.

The head-start method had been used with varying success on reptiles, fish, birds, and seals, but this was the first time applying the technique on a land mammal, offering hope that the intervention could help other endangered species. “One of the great things about headstarting is it’s relatively cheap, [and] doesn’t interfere too much with animals’ awareness of predators,” said lead author Alexandra Ross. “Any species that is particularly vulnerable in the early life stage could potentially thrive under a headstarting strategy.”
University of New South Wales


Cities are creating the leadership position of chief heat officer to manage risks associated with heat waves, a sign of growing recognition of the dangers of climate change. 2020 was the planet’s hottest year on record, according to NASA data. In addition to being the lead cause of weather-related deaths in the U.S., heat waves cause disruption from grounded planes to warped train tracks, and have long-term effects on urban quality of life.

Climate researchers are increasingly pushing cities to prepare for high temperatures. Florida’s Miami-Dade County, a founding member of the City Champions for Heat Action initiative, recently appointed the city’s former chief resilience officer, Jane Gilbert, as the world’s first chief heat officer. She will coordinate efforts to raise public awareness of heat risks, correct gaps in heat data, and develop more equitable and heat-resistant infrastructure. CCHA founders Athens, Greece; and Freetown, Sierra Leone, have also committed to hiring chief heat officers, and other cities are expected to follow.
Thomson Reuters Foundation, Cities Today

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